Commit To The Script

In 1995 a movie of epically good/bad proportions was released. Mortal Kombat had become a sensation in the gaming world just a few years before, instantly capturing the hearts of young fans while repulsing their parents. If you were like me, you fell in love with the grotesque nature of the game in its twisted and opposite take on violence in comparison to platform games like Super Mario Bros.

With such a huge following in a short amount of time, the game garnered the attention of the film industry desperate to make a few dollars off of its success. And on an $18 million budget, they raked in over $120 million worldwide in box office sales. This movie made bank.

And no, it wasn’t a good script with great acting. It was a bad script with cheesy acting that took multiple liberties with a source material that itself made little sense. So why did it do so well, and why am I even referencing it? Because it knew what it was and it went all in. The actors, the director, the writers, everyone involved just said “Fuck it” and committed. How else could you pull off a scene where one of your leading actors drops into a split and punches a ten-foot-tall, four-armed monster in the crotch?

This all-in commitment is necessary to make a bad movie feel good, and a trail run worth running.

If you were to take the trail description for a race, map out your emotions per mile from the cloud scraping highs and inconceivable lows, and place every word from your inner consciousness into a script, it would read like a cheesy movie. And the only way it works, the only way you get to the finish line, is if you commit.

Half-hearted thinking will break down your spirit when the newness of a race wears off and the pain begins. Build a character for yourself to play. Deify the finish line and place the trail in your way as a monster to conquer. Commit to yourself and your script.

If ever you need encouragement before a race, do what I do. Find your dusty copy of the greatest bad movie of your childhood (rent it if you somehow don’t own it), push play, and watch what crazy commitment to a blatantly bad idea looks like. And when you get to the finish and the credits begin to roll on your race, you’ll know within your spirit that you are the chosen one. You will face your destiny and cross that finish line. Or, DNF like Sub Zero did while giving it your all (personal heroes don’t always win).

 Either way, the memories will at least be worth rewatching over and over for years to come, cheesiness and all.  

The Rock: A Love Story in 14 Miles

When we first planned this course, it was designed to highlight the park and to give runners a chance to see how beautiful it was if they had never been there before. Being on Valentine’s Day weekend, we also centered much of the swag around that notion of love as well. In rescheduling this race after the ice storm canceled our original plans, we had a chance to reevaluate our course and found a way to tell a different love story; not one of falling in love with the park, but of the love/hate relationship runners share with the trails.

This course is not designed to hurt you, but to make you feel every emotion a runner will go through. There will be breathtaking highs and fits of joy, countered by agonizing moments of groaning displeasure. The climbs are difficult, the descents are technical, the views are amazing, and the experience is your journey through the emotional mind you’re stuck with on a long and arduous run.

Mile 0.0 – 1.75

The Start line is always a place of mixed emotions, and this one will be no different. We kept our original permit of only 50 runners for this reschedule so there will be an intimate and exclusive vibe to this race. Perfect for making new trail friends, but also worrisome for not being able to drift into a crowd if your nerves begin to play havoc with your confidence.

When you begin, the initial adrenaline rush will be your first challenge. In less than a .25 mile you’ll begin the first major climb of the course up the Wolf’s Rock Trail. If you rush this climb, you will burn the energy needed later in the race. Take it slow, get to know the technicality the mountain is presenting, and understand what you’ll be up against for the next few hours.

When you crest this climb at just under a mile, make sure you find your breath before you begin to run as you head left on the ridgeline toward your first sightseeing opportunity. Glance into the blossoming woods, check out the distant horizon through the trees, or just watch your feet as you make your way into the rock gardens that line this course. Then, enjoy your run. You’ll have close to a mile from the moment you crest the first climb to find your footing moving at a faster pace as you pass along this rolling section.

**Wolf’s Rock** – The first major sightseeing opportunity will be just to the right of the course. While beautiful, these rocky outcroppings can be deadly and are not to be messed with so the course does not go out onto any of them. But please, take a moment to briefly step of the course and create a memory. These views are gorgeous and are the reason we do crazy things like run 14 miles in mountainous terrain.

Mile 1.75-4.5

 With the renewed vigor of young love after taking the time to peak out over Wolf’s Rock and enjoying the brief respite of flats and a downhill section, this course will present its next challenge – Hanging Rock.

From the moment you turn right off of the Wolf’s Rock trail onto Hanging Rock, you begin to feel a change in the course’s demeanor. What was a single track, wooded area, becomes a gravel road heading up. After the first initial climb levels out, it offers your first view of the peak of Hanging Rock and you’ll begin to wonder, “Am I going all the way up there?”. Yes. Yes, you are. And you’ll be getting up there very steeply and in under a mile.

Once the gravel road ends at the base of Hanging Rock, the climb begins. In total, it’s barely .3 miles from the base of the climb to the peak, but you will have to earn every step. Take your time. Breathe. You will reach the peak.

**Hanging Rock** – The second major sightseeing opportunity gives the park its name. Hanging Rock is worthy of this honor as the vast mountainous views are instantly iconic in NC backcountry trail life. The course turns around just before the outcropping, but again, feel free to walk out and catch your breath in one of the most grandiose displays of nature you’ll see in the area.

The descent from Hanging Rock is not to be taken lightly. As steep as it was to summit this peak, it is just as steep to descend back to the gravel road. POWER HIKING IS ADVISED TO ALL RUNNERS WITHOUT HIGH LEVELS OF TECHNICAL DOWNHILL EXPERIENCE!! Nature does not care if you get hurt, and this course will not care if you fall and break anything. Take care of yourself when you are in a position that we cannot take care of you.

After you’ve descended from Hanging Rock, prepare to enjoy the next 1.5 miles of relatively easy going. Any of you familiar with running at Crowders Mountain will have flashbacks of running down the Tower trail as you make your way toward the Lake trail section. If you are wanting to gain a little time or just let out some energy, this will be your first prime section of the course. After enjoying the rolling trail sweeping directly to the side of the lake, you’ll make a right turn onto Moore’s Wall trail, and will find your first aid station. It will be another 5 miles before the next aid station. Take advantage and refill your water bottles and bladders!

**Lake Dam** – The third major sightseeing opportunity will be the dam constructed for the lake. You will pass right by the base of this seemingly innocuous but mesmerizing feature that will make you want to stop and catch your breath. If your heart is racing, or you feel like the course is getting the better of you early on, take a moment here. Remember why we run in the woods.

Mile 4.5-7

The climb up Moore’s wall is grueling. At 1.25 mile long, there are only a few brief respites where you are not going up. It will present you a few moments in which you will begin to think it’s easy and I’m exaggerating. Then it will quickly remind you of this very sentence in which I’m telling you to take your time and breathe through it. Unless you are well trained in power hiking up long climbs, expect to lose some time here.

As the third major climb, this will also begin to let in the doubt and frustration that can so often plague our minds during a run – the love/hate relationship will begin to shine here. The “Why am I doing this?” line of questioning we slam ourselves with will be hard to drone out as you slowly make this climb, but once you crest and hit the ridgeline, you’ll have your answers.

At roughly 5.8 miles in, you’ll make a left onto the ridgeline of Moore’s Wall trail. A nice rocky outcropping will be just to your left and will give you a view of the Wolf’s Rock Ridgeline you were at just a few miles before. Utilize this view to reenergize you and wash out those negative thoughts.

Now, this ridgeline is runnable, but I encourage a strong power hike. You’ve just finished your third of four major climbs, and this is a tight and technical single track with plenty of toe crunchers looking to take you down. Help your body out by hiking out this section until you reach the descent. You may lose a minute or two here, but it will be worth it on the back-end when you’re able to run the last section of the race to make the time back up.

The descent from Moore’s Wall begins at mile 6.5. It is technical but gradually becomes more runnable after the first .25 mile. Your body will need to keep gravity from gaining control of your speed here, so monitor how fast you’re going. You can run this, but only if you can control yourself.

Mile 7-12

The halfway point can feel great, and after the grueling experience of tackling those three major climbs, this soft pack gradual uphill will be reinvigorating. Tory’s Den Trail section is the primary out and back on this course to highlight one of the trails less used at the park. This mainly soft pack and pine strewn trail will be an easy-going section for the first few miles as you wade your way through the lightly populated and densely packed forest.

Take advantage of this section as there is a slight climb, but then a near-continuous descent afterward. At mile 9.25, you’ll reach your second aid station at the trailhead for Tory’s Falls. Enjoy a break and conversation now, or when you return in .4 miles as you will briefly carry on down the trail to the waterfall before returning.

**Tory’s Waterfall** – Fourth major sightseeing opportunity. The trail will turn around again right before the rocky outcropping that lets you breathe in the waterfall and take in the crushing sound of water breaking against the rocks below. My suggestion, grab a snack from the aid station and take it the .2 miles down to the waterfall and enjoy it there before returning. It’s a simple beauty, but it’ll be worth remembering.

After leaving the aid station on your way back, you’re going to remember the gradual 1.5 mile downhill section that got you to where you were, and how you now have to hike up it. It’s ok. This is the last major climb of the course and, in my opinion, the easiest. Much of it is gradual and over easy terrain. And if you need a pick-me-up, at around 10.3 miles in, you’ll see an opening to your left where Moore’s wall is looking ominously down on your position. You conquered that wall already, and Hanging Rock, and Wolf’s Rock. Remember this, and you’ll conquer the last .8 miles of the climb until the soft pack and pine-strewn trail return to guide you back downhill.

Mile 12-14

You’ve all but done it. You’ve made it back to the base of Moore’s Wall Loop Trail and can now enjoy the warm embrace of the green tunnel of Magnolia trees and the spring water running to the side of the trail that feeds them. This section is runnable and beautiful. You’ll pass by your friends at the aid station from mile 4.5 at just about mile 13 for one last pick me up if needed.

Don’t close your eyes to this section of the course, though. It may not have the peaks you conquered before, but it will show you a simple beauty that will make you want to take off your shoes and dip your toes into the cool water. And when you’re done enjoying the Magnolias, you will find yourself coming back out around the lake, the finish line just a short way away.

Cardboard Castles

I was fortunate growing up. Our little suburb was tucked out in rural nowhere, and the developer left a large chunk of wooded area in the middle to match the hundreds of acres of undeveloped woods between us and the closest interstate (I-85 represent!). With this setup, there was little reason to use the roads other than as a quick shortcut to the next trail the kids of the area made to get to a friends’ house. In these woods, forts were built, unofficial races were run, wars were fought, and young love sparked.

The woods are a magical place with untapped potential for the imagination. This is why I love trail running. This is also why I worry about trail runners.

I understand the draw to take your runs seriously. It’s a potentially dangerous scenario that you never even considered the damage you could incur as a child, and you still have responsibilities outside of the woods to keep in mind. From this necessary acknowledgment we must make, stem a plethora of adultizing to our passion. As rules and boundaries continue to grow trail running into a sport, we can become obsessed with pace, place, and a particular race. We also lose sight of the pure joy running in the woods can bring just from taking a moment to remember your running carefree in the woods.

For many, they can read the Bible and find comfort or perceived wisdom from passages such as 1 Corinthians 13:11, the “When I became a man, I set aside childish ways.”  

I’ve never much enjoyed this line of reasoning in philosophy (theological or secular). While there are things we must understand as we grow, responsibilities that can no longer be taken care of for us but must be done by ourselves, the notion is far too combative to something integral to our path to contentment. I can be both childish and responsible, and often find much more joy when doing so.

I have yet to meet an adult that when pressed, won’t admit that they look into the mirror expecting to see a youthful interlocutor staring back at them – the younger, more childish, version of themselves, still ready to spark vibrancy in their life if unleashed.

There are so many of our daily rituals that society refuses to let us act odd or randomly when completing. We have to be precise, we have to be sober-minded, and we have to look at children as infantile in their methods of fun. Even though, when they get done running through the woods, no watch, no crowds, no concern whatsoever for anything other than the experience of the moment, they have the smile we’re all chasing down with each run.

“I’m in my room making cardboard castles with shoestring rope.

Soup spoon drawbridge, a tinfoil moat.

I’m still dreaming after all these years.” Watsky – Cardboard Castles

The Parting Glass

It hurts, in so many ways. But it doesn’t change, no matter the willpower you deign to throw at it. Our bodies, our effort, our lives are on a direct path toward decay.

So, what do you do now? Do you fight the dying embers of reality? Do you acquiesce to the compulsive fear of the darkness beyond? Or, do you take a breath, accept the lack of power over fate, and carry on with a smile?

I’m not sure what you choose and, depending on the day, I’m not always certain which one I choose. I want it to always be the calm stoic who wins out, viewing my fate as one amongst many, an endless passage of life connected to its surroundings. But some days I feel like I should be special. Some days, I feel like I shouldn’t have to accept the downward trend of life into the absence of consciousness.

This ever-swaying pendulum is a constant in my training as well. The peaks and valleys glare at me from my Garmin and Strava accounts as I look back to find my progression flowing alongside my mental state. I’m sure it’s possible to separate the two, but for me, my running is a direct correlation to my outlook on life. When I first got into running cross country as a kid, it was to find my way onto a team in school. I hoped my participation among the other popular kids in sports would bring with it the ability to act as they did in the hallways and around our classmates.

It didn’t. Four letters from three sports and in academics at three different high schools offered nothing but trinkets to stare at from time to time and wonder what they were worth. There was no joy in my effort dispensed, only desire for something more, something unattainable – other people’s acceptance, as well as my own.

I was constantly in pursuit of finding my flaws. At that time, they were ever-present and it was a pervasive notion that if I broke myself down enough, eventually I would find a foundation worth building back anew from. If this sounds familiar to anyone reading it, then you probably know that you never reach that point. There’s always more of yourself to be broken down and ridiculed.

In life, and in running, my mental state didn’t begin to change for the better until I released the pressure cooker churning my emotions. There is a place for goals and desires in life and training. We need direction and purpose and these can be hard to focus on without the drive goal orientation offers. The times in which I can distinguish between emotions and running are my most productive because I can clearly state to myself my abilities and what my performance should accurately look like. In these moments I feel accomplished, and I feel like I can finally pursue the goals I’ve laid out.

But what is the final purpose of a goal? Is it truly just to reach a certain mileage? Is it just about shaving a couple of minutes off a marathon time? Or, is it about you, that face you see each day in the mirror, changing over time, but still desperate to find acceptance within yourself or from others, clinging on to an image of yourself long lost to time?

We don’t have much life left and a good goal based on bad reasoning can eat away at the pleasure we’re allotted before we drift away into the night. Break past the surface answer to your goals and find the foundation behind them. If it’s faulty, you’ll never be at peace with your progress. We all deserve peace.

One day we will be raising our parting glass, and saying our goodbyes. Take the time to find peace with yourself now, so you can say goodbye to your life with the reflection and hallowed remembrance it deserves.

But since it fell into my lot, that I should rise and you should not.

I’ll gently rise and softly call, good night and joy be to you all.

How to Spend Your Reality Check

There’s an emotional cliff awaiting every runner after a major event. The cheers of the fellow runners and the setting of race day atmosphere have dissipated into your memories, leaving you with yourself; the harshest critic of your abilities you’ve ever met.

Maybe you hit your goal, but did you feel as good as you told yourself you would? Did you miss your goal, and now you’re cursing your mistakes from miles 4-7 that crushed your energy at mile 29? Do you feel great about what happened, but look at that next goal with fear and hesitation, questioning if you really are that good of a runner?

Reality doesn’t let you savor memories for very long without reminding you that fear and self-doubt are of endless supply.

I don’t intend to suggest there’s a way to make those questions stop. Nor, do I think they should. We need to question our past, even if it was only hours or days prior. That’s when it’s freshest in our minds and hasn’t been tainted by years of mistaken memory, layered over by emotions and merged experiences.

What I believe we can do is honestly answer these questions. We just need to do so in a forward-thinking and positive manner. And I believe we accomplish that with two steps.

Assessment of the Facts:

Honestly write down what happened during your run.

Did you actually feel great when you told the people high-fiving you that? Did you eat exactly as you planned? Were you happy when you were out there enough to warrant putting yourself through this again?

No one needs to know these answers but you. And it’s a huge stumbling block to our progression when we lie to ourselves. Honesty with that weird-looking version of yourself in the mirror is key to improving. Take every ounce of information relevant to your progression and compile it in a kind and thoughtful note to yourself for when you begin your next training cycle. I’m stressing the kind part once again because a nastygram to yourself is pointless torture that we all need to stop.

When you begin your next training session after you’ve targeted a new goal, read through your race details to remember what you did and didn’t like. You may find yourself about to fall into the same habit for this goal, leading you to repeat the same frustrations that may lead you to a DNF, or just a very long and cumbersome push to the finish.

Re-Assessment of Our Emotions:

Our memories stick with us for as long as our minds are capable of holding onto them. This is just a process of our brain, normal to our species. Whether or not these memories are labeled good or bad, viewed with pleasure or pain, is a process of our thinking and construct of our view at the time. If you had a bad experience with your previous race, you may look at it in disgust or frustration.

Holding onto the anger from a previous race may fuel your passion for a while, but it’s a fast-burning wick that will burn out before the finish line. You may not be happy with the outcome of your effort at a previous race, but to look at the experience in a negative light will affect you. Be hungry for better. Challenge yourself to go farther, and cross that next finish line. But take those desires to look negatively at a previous race and burn them in a bonfire while you laugh with your friends about how you fell or missed a cutoff while staring at the stars and being grateful for the opportunity to get back at it.

In conclusion:

Don’t let your experience go to waste by ignoring important information that can fuel your future runs. And don’t let it fester and boil its way into your nightmares when you could let the pain ease, and begin to enjoy the moment for what it was.

Amor Fati – Love your fate.

It’s the only one you’re going to get.

Photo credits to Ruben Cosme

Depression

There’s a brief moment of terror you may find yourself in on the trails, where you’ve misstepped and your body loses balance and begins wavering. Your stomach may drop. Your mind may rush through the tragedy that could unfold. But most likely you’ll experience nothing more than a grin as you regain control and carry on.

Since I was a kid, I can’t remember a week in which I haven’t felt that trepidation and wobbling notion while interacting with the world around me. Reality rarely makes sense to me. I can see the constructs and building blocks that create the opaque and cooperative world before me, but I lack the inherent ability to interact with it appropriately. I have questions that appear laughable to those the answers come naturally to. I lack the awareness to understand proper social constructs without spending ample amounts of time observing others glide through them without a moment’s thought. I’m odd.

Medication has helped me adapt to the unruly discourse taking place within the padded walls of my mind and helps me calm the nerves that grow weary of trying to learn how to be a more ‘normal’ person. I don’t use the word as a pejorative, so please understand I say it in many ways as a compliment. I envy the competence of people to interact without constantly cycling through variable scenarios for hours to try and approach the actual event with the best possible words to use for the desired outcome – “Small black coffee, please.”.

Therapy has helped me confront the damaging thoughts that have rendered many of my years to time’s waste bin without the need for a footnote or explanation of some great occurrence. With it, I’ve managed to garner the courage to strive for dreams I kept locked away. With it, I’ve even become somewhat adept at expressing myself to people without the horrific terrors that plagued my thoughts.

I’ve accepted the fact that my brain does not, and most likely will never, work properly. And that’s ok. I suffer from depression, anxiety, and a couple of other issues that make life a little more complicated than I would like. This is me, though. I can accept it and handle the problems with the patience and understanding that help me move forward, or pretend I’m not broken and ignore the monsters festering beneath the surface. It’s been an uncomfortable journey to befriend the monsters, but after listening to them for years, I’ve grown quite fond of their plight and even use them to my advantage when possible. From these depths, I’ve found talents that I never thought I could tap.     

I even enjoy talking now. I also enjoy writing, as it was my primary means of communication to the void within my notebooks for two decades. With these two methods, I’ve found a voice and a personality that I subjugated and forced into hiding to avoid the hazardous land mines of social interactions that left me alone, save for the family that just accepted how weird I was.

Now, there are brief moments when at a race that I begin speaking to the crowd of runners before Rory and me, as they await whatever instructions or advice we are about to offer. My stomach drops as your eyes fall upon us. My mind begins to shout and scream within the confines of the neurons firing back and forth in hopes I’ll flee to safety. But ultimately, I grin and accept the moment for what it is. With Rory by my side, and Jenn standing within eyesight, I regain control and carry on.

I hope that if you deal with any similar issues, you’ve found your path to acceptance and progress through the pain.

Goon Dock Running

“It’s ok. Goonies make mistakes. Just don’t make anymore.”

You’re going to screw up during a run. At some point, you’re going to make a mistake and need to recalibrate, adjust, or bring yourself back from the brink of disaster. It’s ok.

Plans are amazing and I make quite a few of them – from how I’ll clean my house on a day off to how I’ll handle my gel intake during a long run, I’ve got a plan for that. But in nearly every scenario the plan will inevitably break down and need adjusting. It’s not so difficult when my dogs come charging in covered in mud and make me refocus from laundry to mopping the floors. It is difficult when I’m twenty miles deep and realize I’m dehydrated and the cramps are setting in as my body begins to revolt.

Mistakes happen. What do you do next?

First, take a moment to be frustrated with yourself. Emotions aren’t the enemy. It’s how you handle them and how much control you give them that can be the problem. Kick a pine cone, shout ‘fuck you’ at a squirrel nearby, or hurl that pine cone you just kicked at said squirrel because it probably deserves it anyway (squirrels are evil and I stand by this statement).

Now that the frustration has passed, plan you’re way out of the hole. If it is dehydration, go easy. Don’t down a bunch of water at once and think that it will magically correct the deficit. Sip on your water continuously while taking a couple of gels over the next hour. Slow down your pace to avoid overexertion that would make your body pump out more sweat and keep you from regaining balance. And if you happen upon an aid station during this time, take a load off and chat for a while to let your body do what it does best in the background without you getting in the way.

Mistakes will change the course of your plan and will almost inevitably affect the outcome you had been anticipating. But adaptation is necessary. Carrying on through mistakes is how we learn.

And know it’s ok to screw up, because why the hell shouldn’t it be.

I’m betting money you’re not a professional runner because the vast majority of us aren’t. You do not get paid to be in perfect shape or to spend hours grueling over your training plan to try to find the weak spots.

Goonies make mistakes. And if trail runners aren’t grown-up Goonies chasing down One-Eyed Willie’s treasure, then I don’t know what the hell we are. However you choose to describe running – sport, activity, mud stomping fun – we are still adults playing in the woods while the rest of the world stares at us like we’re the weird kids your parents made you play with (hands up if you’re that kid… Our parent’s made Rory play with me).

Whatever happens, whatever tries to drag you down and destroy your plans, you can make it through. Because Goonies might make mistakes, but Goonies never say die!

Bull Durham Syndrome

Crash Davis – the iconic fictional character from Bull Durham has an unintended place amongst my thoughts right now. A tremendous baseball player, he racked up accolades in the minor leagues, but never got a full chance to take the next step. Just a few glorious days of his career were spent in the majors before being sent back down to play out his days unnoticed.

What in the hell does that have to do with anything? – You ask.

I was intending this slot to be an exhausted, but elated race review of The Rock. Several months in the making, this race was a journey into unfamiliar territory for Rory and me as we began our next stage of plans for Vagabond Endurance. Life and nature are unconcerned with personal desires, though.

Sometimes You Win:

Rory and I had no idea what to expect when we announced our first race back in the winter of 2019. We both ran races but we had never directed one. Unwilling to take it lightly, we poured our hearts into the endeavor and tried to make the best of it. We got to meet many of the runners we’ve seen at our start lines at Charlotte run clubs that welcomed us in with open arms, letting us nervously ramble on about the Cane Creek Half and 4 Miler.

And not only did y’all welcome us to speak, but you even listened, signed up, and cheered us on. We don’t know what we did to deserve that type of reception. All we can say is that we don’t take it for granted and remind ourselves of the open arms we were fortunate enough to receive from the moment we started this.

For us, it was like we finally got scouted and signed; like someone gave us the chance to shine to see if we could make it in the majors. Hosting the race and seeing all of the runners cross the finish line smiling was a joy that Rory and I didn’t know we could feel from our work. From the moment we cheered on the first finisher to when we packed up the last of our gear to head out, we were happy. We felt successful.

Sometimes You Lose:

The pandemic is just a dreadful experience, and this is coming from someone who can be considered rather fortunate throughout the entirety of its grip. We’ve come close to losing both our businesses at varying times. To be blatantly honest, a month after the Cane Creek Half and 4 Miler in March we were fighting to get on unemployment until we were called back by the properties we paint at to continue operations of our other company.

This isn’t a plea for sympathy. Some of you reading this went through the same thing, if not worse. This is just the random kick in the groin that life can deliver after experiencing an unexpected high.

We honestly thought our chance to build Vagabond Endurance was over. It took months to get a park to agree to give us a permit, and every conversation felt like they were on the tipping point of just saying no, and telling us it wasn’t going to happen.

Sometimes It Rains:

Giving up and calling it quits would’ve been easy, and even understandable. But we kept getting support. We kept hearing from runners who thought our weird brand of inane humor and style made them smile. So, we kept trying.

Eventually, we snagged a race at Crowders Mountain and even got to hold a 3rd with Killer Creek, two races that managed to bring more new friends into our circle. Sometimes it rains good fortune when you don’t expect it.

The Rock would’ve been our 4th in-person race; our first step toward our larger goal of taking people on adventures around our state and beyond. Vagabond Endurance is meant to be our way of sharing in runner’s desires to see new places, experience new trails, and build a family on the road that supports them through it all.

We spent hours working on this course, trying to find the right path to take you on to not just give you an enjoyable run, but to give you an experience on the trails that would build a craving within you to come back to Hanging Rock.

This race will still happen, but not this weekend.

Instead of getting that next chance at the majors to shine, the weather called and sent us back down. So here we sit, waiting in the winds, looking forward to our next chance. We’ll continue putting in the hours at night and on the weekends to find new paths to take you on a journey. And we’ll continue to cherish every ounce of support and kindness you send our way.

Without it, we wouldn’t even have the opportunity to break out and go on this journey. With it, we feel like major leaguers in the making, just waiting to be called up.

Why Vagabond?

There’s a stark difference between our lives and those who make a solitary campsite or the back of a van their home. We are stationary many days, walled into the city we live in, taking care of the families and lives we’ve built for ourselves. Quite often, we have to plan our disappearing acts into the world around us, sacrificing the days of picking up a drop bag and going at a moment’s whim. So, with these limitations, why choose the name ‘Vagabond’?

Throughout our lives, my brother and I have chosen to take multiple paths. There was no set course we followed, and a long list of failures and accomplishments that shaped our mental states. As we developed a passion for something, we pursued it. If we saw the end had come, we began to say our goodbyes. In this respect, we received many an awkward glance or condescending comment from people who readily chose to follow an unwavering and narrow path, whether it made them happy or not.

For this reason, we consider ourselves to be vagabonds. Although we may not hit the road to a new town, or adventure as often as some, we are readily available to the changing nature of life and the shifts and stumbles that come along with it. Being tied down to one specific goal, one attainable achievement, does not inspire a passion to keep us moving in our lives. We want to wander. We want to try new things, meet new people, and see new landscapes.

We are not the vagrants of old, meandering from town to town, passing through others’ lives. But, for us, that’s ok. The world changes around us at a steady pace, and often, so do the meanings of words. If I were to express how I felt when I call myself a vagabond it would be as follows:

  • To be ready and willing to experience emotions as they come and go freely. To let loose my grip on things that cannot be permanent, and to embrace what is within my reach while I can. And, to experience as much of nature, love, and people as life allows wherever I may find myself.

Our definition is far from perfect, and so are we. But we’ll keep wandering, in our lives, on the road, and with our races for as long as our legs and minds will take us.

This is why you’ll find many of our races won’t repeat. If you see it, and it perks your interest, this may be your one chance to run that race. We want to be free to be inspired by new ideas, new trails, and new experiences. Locking our schedules down to specific events to be repeated year in and year out locks us, and you, into the same routine. We’ll stay tethered for now to Cane Creek, a park that we found a calling in to chase to its fruition.

It might seem odd given that many races are created in hopes to become permanent fixtures, but we’re odd people. And from the group of runners we’ve met at our races so far, y’all are pretty odd too. We love you for that.

We may never fit the romanticized imagery of the vagabond, but our hearts match the desire, and our eyes will keep the horizon in sight to make sure we take the next step toward it when we can.

Cheers to those that find stillness in a restless heart.   

What’s Your Pace?

The field was small, but the vibes were great. I was lined up for my first 50 miler and my nerves were wreaking havoc on my emotions as the cool air of the morning sent chills throughout my body. I had planned, as always – start slow, keep it steady, and just be happy. But, I didn’t. I started hot and fast.

There was no immediate punishment for this careless decision and I was quickly letting thoughts of glory bicker over which podium spot I would take. Obviously not first (too humble for such an honor), but who’s to say I’d have to settle for third instead of reaching for second… I can be quite the overachiever in my daydreams.

The first two hours had passed successfully. I was running two minutes under my goal pace and even got a ‘Nice job!’ from the RD at an aid station for coming in at #11 close enough to see a top 10 pack of runners headed out. This was going to be my moment to shine. I took a quick swig of water and grabbed a handful of something I wasn’t paying enough attention to know what it was but still ate, and took off down the trail after the pack.

This was what I dreamed about during training. This was also the moment anyone objectively assessing the scenario would be able to say, “Oh yeah, you’re about to be fucked.” But damn how they would’ve been wrong. I kicked it into high gear, asserted my dominance on the trails, and wound my way through runners until I could see the podium squad off in the distance. I spent much of the late teens and twenties on my own, contemplating the accolades that would adorn my humble abode after pushing through such agony to attain this accomplishment – my wife would cook me the finest of meals, my family would shower me with praise, and the world would know that there is a new up and comer (I’m almost 40) to the trail running world.

With such grandiose visions rattling through my brain, I knew it was now or never. I began to push myself even harder, fighting through abdominal pain and cramps to make my way to within a breath’s distance of third place. Letting our feet sync, pounding into the dirt with the same rhythm, I waited for the pristine moment to pass. It came to fruition in a sharp turn, followed by an uphill climb hidden by a dense thicket of pine trees that nature, and the trail designers, had laid out beautifully. His feet stuttered on the turn, losing a step, and losing his rhythm while I charged past, never looking back…. Yeah, this is all bullshit.

Remember that aid station bit about how the RD told me ‘Nice job!’. I started bombing a few miles after that. I had completely screwed my hydration plan, did not pay near enough attention to what I would need to eat to sustain such an effort (an effort I hadn’t even trained for) and wound up rolling my ankle so bad at mile 31 because of the cramps I didn’t address. As my gait changed I couldn’t run properly and found my way slowly crashing into my first DNF.

One of the loveliest things about trail running is the trails. One of the most unforgiving, uncaring, unapologetic things about trail running is the trails. They do not care about your emotions, your plans, or your effort. If you do not put in the work needed to calm your thoughts and desires, the trails will humble you at no extra charge.

If you’ve been properly training, you will run multiple long-distance efforts at a moderate training pace before your ultra. But come race day, that moderate pace for the entire run can be stunted into a blow-out effort within the first half if you aren’t honest with yourself about where you can comfortably run and be happy and safe. For most of us, it’s a minute or two added on to our training pace, not subtracted from. Do some runners go out hot and find a way to finish at the podium? Yes. Do the vast majority of runners who go out hot wind up in the same predicament as I did? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Your pace for an ultra is not your PR for a half or even a 25k. If you aren’t a nose down, precision training semi-pro to pro, then let yourself off the hook. There is an overabundance of DNF’s, injuries, and finish line fatigue that can be directly correlated to runners overreaching their pace, and I am an unfortunate ambassador to that statement. It has taken me the last few years of honestly questioning my goals, honestly asking myself what I intend to achieve, and honestly reminding myself that I am not an athlete.

I’m a trail runner.

I don’t need to fight for a podium spot because I don’t train for a podium spot. I don’t need to harangue myself if my pace is a mid-13 or 14 when an 11 isn’t so unreasonable from there.

When reason comes along to shine a light on the situation, I can see I am pushing myself to accomplish something only worth it if I enjoy it. Why? Because that’s all I want from trail running. I want to enjoy it. I want to enjoy the other people who enjoy it, and I don’t want to struggle through training sessions to take mere seconds off of my finish time. If you do, awesome. Kill it, crush it, and dig in and grind your heart out. But if you’re like me, give yourself a break. Finish wherever you finish and be all the happier for the memories and smiles.

I’ve most likely run my PR for a 50k and 50 Miler, and that’s fine. I’ll take a finish line walking in and smiling over pushing myself to the breaking point these days. Besides, you get to eat a lot more aid station food, and talk to some pretty cool people when you’re not in a rush to get anywhere but to that next step in front of you.